Iain Taylor, Curriculum Team Leader for Sport at Bradford College, has recently completed one of the most gruelling and difficult endurance tests in the UK- the Bob Graham Round. Battling against cold, dark, winter conditions and temperatures as low as minus six, he completed the 68 mile route in the Lake District in 22 hours and 44 minutes, climbing 42 mountains including Skiddaw, Helvellyn, Scafell and Scafell Pike, all of which are more than 3,000 feet high.
Whilst nearly 2,000 people have completed the challenge in summer, only 21 runners have ever finished the course in the winter. After completing the ultimate challenge, Iain has now become the third fastest fell runner to date, to do the course in winter. After four years in the planning and with the support of a team of 30 people, Iain has made it into the record books.
The challenge has been an ambition of Iain’s for a long time. To prepare for the course, focussed and dedicated Iain drove to the Lake District on 24 separate occasions, between April 2010 and January 2011, to scope out the circuit until he knew it well enough to run in the dark. He also carried out training in Scotland, Wales and the Yorkshire Dales.
Speaking about the conditions he had to endure on the day, Iain remarked: “It’s easier in the summer because you have 18 hours of daylight and can do it in shorts and a t-shirt. In winter there’s lots of snow and ice on the ground you have to contend with.” Modestly Iain added: “I must admit on my day I had good conditions. I’d tried it the year before and was waist deep in snow, whereas this time it was mainly ice and really hard snow which was easier to run on.” After starting at 4am on Saturday the 22nd January 2011, determined Iain eventually finished the course in the early hours of Sunday morning, despite having a painful knee injury, vomiting and being sleep deprived for 24 hours.
Speaking about how it felt to have completed one of the most difficult endurance tests in the UK, Iain smiled and said: “Relieved…It’s still sinking in.” Now a fully fledged member of the Bob Graham Club having completed the circuit within 24 hours, Iain added: “I think there have been 25 attempts made this winter and so far only 4 people have got round.” The circuit is named after Bob Graham, a Keswick guest house owner, who invented the challenge and was the first person to finish the circuit in 1932.
When asked if Iain was scared at any point during the gruelling circuit, he replied: “No, but a couple of descents were quite dangerous. I was going down a really narrow gully that was really iced up. The two people I was with, stopped to put their spikes on… stupidly I forgot mine, so I had to go down without them on, so I was really cautious. Luckily I have over 30 years of mountaineering experience behind me. I also had to abseil down Broad Stand, which are steep icy steps and rocks.”
A passion to succeed kept Iain going during the exhausting 24 hour circuit and the help of a good team, including 15 pacers, one of whom was colleague Matt Nowell who accompanied him on different stages of the run, whilst others provided food and moral support. Elaborating further Iain said: “I had people with me at every leg to carry stuff for me, keep me going and keep me company. They helped me massively; from people I’d know for 30 years, to people I’d met on the day wishing to show their support. They all kept me going… I didn’t want to let them down. It was very humbling.”
Iain’s 80 year old father Gordon also turned out to cheer his son on during a leg of the course. Iain laughed and said: “It’s the first time my dad’s ever given me any praise. It’s coming from a working class South Yorkshire background… it’s not something that’s given out much. It was good to get that encouragement; my wife Mary and son Harry were there too, which spurred me on.”
Greeted by a champagne reception, locals and well wishers lined the streets to cheer Iain on as he finally reached the finishing line at Moot Hall in Keswick at 3 am, on Sunday 23rd January - nearly 24 hours after setting off on one of the greatest endurance tests in Britain. Iain laughed and modestly concluded: “After reaching Skidaw, the last summit, I had enough time to be able to walk the last 5 miles back to Keswick and the finish, which was a bit of an anti-climax. I had always imagined having just a few minutes left - and having to sprint to Moot Hall shedding clothing as I went.“